A Man Among Women


"I could see he was close to blacking out; his face was as white as a ghost. `Megan, you're in charge now and there are now two of us depending on you. Get me out of here; I'm too damned short to die in this God forsaken country. Do your job. Take me home, babe.' He said."

"Then, once he was sure that our patient was stabilized, he asked the medic for an IV catheter, a compression bandage and a Velcro tourniquet. Smitty, the medic, wanted to pop his seat back and treat him; `the Captain' would have none of that. He wrapped that tourniquet around his arm, found his own vein, inserted that IV catheter, hooked up the tubing to a liter bag of plasma which he hung on the door, applied the compression bandage over the wound and said, `that's better, I was getting a little dehydrated'. Hell, he was leaking like a sieve! He was seconds away from going into shock; he should have already gone into shock but it was as if he willed himself not to until everyone else was taken care of...including me."

"I dropped our passenger and my commander off at the hospital pad. The son of a bitch just unfastened his harness, climbed out of his seat and limped his way halfway to the trauma hut before he passed out from blood loss. I was screaming at the top of my lungs trying to get the gurney crew to understand. Finally they saw him, picked him up and rushed him inside. I wanted to shut down and stay and be there for him. But my job was to refuel, go back to base, pick up another pilot and do my job. And that is exactly what I did. We pulled three more kids out that night. One didn't make it. The next day we heard that 'the Captain' was okay. He's lost a lot of blood; if he hadn't started the IV when he did, he might not have made it. There was no permanent damage; it was a lucky, or unlucky, depending on your perspective, nick of a blood vessel---a major blood vessel--¬a through and through. They closed it up and we figured he'd be sent home."

"Three days later I got a call to pick up a passenger at the hospital. It was not uncommon for us to pick up kids who had experienced minor wounds and fly them back to their units. And there he was, limping his skinny butt out to the helicopter. They wanted to evac him to Germany for further evaluation. He'd just gotten out of bed, gotten dressed and walked out. They had laundered his uniform but you could still see the bullet hole in the left leg. He wanted to be there to personally hand over command to his chosen successor, which he did, that afternoon. Higher HQ sent down the orders for his Purple Heart a week after he left---it was his fourth. Marge was a damned fine commander but there never would be another one like, 'the Captain'. We missed him desperately."

Megan paused before finishing up. "Mary, I'd take a bullet for the man; I'd gladly sacrifice my life for him. I'd trust him with my life; I already have more times than I can count. I never have and probably never will meet anyone like him or have the honor of serving under anyone remotely of his caliber. They just don't get any better. I love the guy to death; it's not about romance or sex or whatever. I'll love, `the Captain', as will a whole bunch of other young pilots and soldiers, men and women, until the day I die. And if there's a God and a heaven, `the Captain' will be there when I arrive. And all he'll need to say to me to make me know that my life was worth something is, `you done good, kid."'

"Thanks Megan, thanks you for a lot of insight, not only into Bob but into you. You better go get started. I'll be right in."

Damn, Mary thought to herself, did I underestimate that cute young blond. I had no idea what kind of stuff she was made of. She had liked Bob but had been wary of him. She saw the way the chairman looked at him and knew there was more to the story of his ultimate role. She buzzed her HR person.

"Bonnie, which of our managers have military service backgrounds?"

"Just Megan, and she served in combat, a medivac pilot, I believe; she was decorated for valor under fire on more than one occasion to include the Distinguished Flying Cross, according to her DD214."

"Yes, I'm not surprised. Thank you."

Better a friend than an adversary, whatever was coming down the pike, Mary thought to herself. From what she had just heard, Bob was one of those very special people. The kind of people this company needed more of. She left her office to go to the conference room. She reworked her welcoming comments in her head as she walked.

"Folks, thanks for coming. By now you've all met Bob, who is consulting for our chairman as we try to evolve our business in changing times. Before we get down to business, I want to give you all a chance to thank a couple of people with us today who have, frankly, done things that make what we do day to day, pale by comparison. We have with us today two former US Army officers, aircraft commanders---medivac helicopter pilots---who served with distinction in combat, saved untold lives and are decorated heroes. Please take a few minutes to thank Bob and Megan for their service to our country."

Megan was instantly viewed by her peers in a very different light. Her appearance had made them underestimate her; all in the room did a quick mental reevaluation. Bob didn't have to; he knew what stern stuff the cute young blue eyed blond was made of. He appreciated Mary's gesture but also knew that she was just self serving enough to hedge her bets. No matter, it was a shrewd tactical move and he respected that. She was the most senior of the Area managers and had excellent business sense. When the final plan evolved he'd need all the friends he could muster.

Bob stayed over for the obligatory dinner which followed the staff meeting, spending time to get to know all of the young managers under Mary's responsibility. They were all damned sharp; Mary developed her subordinates and took their personal and business growth to heart. He respected that a great deal. As the evening drew to a close, the group thinned and he and Mary ended up being the last to leave.

"You made quite an impression on Megan, Bob, when your two served together." Mary said.

"She was one of the finest young officers I ever had the honor of serving with, Mary. She's tough as nails but always eminently human. She was my favorite. I'm very proud of her."

"So, Bob, what's coming down the pike? I'm sure you're sworn to secrecy and I'm also sure that you are destined to be more than a, `here today and gone tomorrow' consultant."

Bob was thoughtful in his response. "Change, Mary, but good change, aggressive, market expanding and, I believe, positive change. Will it be uncomfortable for some? Almost certainly. Will some of the old, legacy things still exist? Absolutely! They're part of the successful heritage of the company, but they will undoubtedly be a less prominent part of the company's face."

He paused, then added some additional thoughts. "You must know, Mary, that Virginia holds you in very high regard. You have exceptional analytical skills and superb business acumen. For any plan to succeed---and understand, that while I may seem evasive, in reality the future is still a bit fuzzy---this organization cannot move forward without strong, principled leadership from the likes of people like you."

"Am I going to end up working for you someday?" Mary asked, never one to pull her punches.

"I doubt it, but I expect that we'll be working shoulder to shoulder in the foreseeable future." Bob replied, with a grin.

"Tell me how I can help, without letting the cat out of the bag." Mary replied.

"Mary, right now we're essentially one big, jumbled together business unit. That'll certainly change; the core business will undoubtedly become a single business unit, albeit smaller. Other units will be formed to explore new markets and new ways of approaching existing markets. I would expect in a month or so, Virginia will bring senior management in to pitch the vision. Working groups will need to be formed from within and from outside. Task forces will be organized to form the core of the new units' management structures. It's not impossible that some lines will be spun off or even retired. It will take some serious, `outside the box' thinking to develop a detailed, executable business plan. The corp has good reserves, excellent cash flow and a healthy credit rating. The finalized plan will have to be sold to investors and analysts, then, the real work begins."

Bob paused again to let his words sink in. "I'm going to ask you and your peers to do something you probably do every day, which is, rank your people. Put major emphasis on those who can work outside of the comfortable structure, creative thinkers with the balls, figuratively speaking, to fight for what they believe in. This will not be a time for the faint of heart. Good solid performers who do what is expected are always important but this is going to require a different mind set. We need folks who aren't afraid to put their jobs on the line for the good of the organization ... warriors. But they're also going to have to possess the sensitivity to help those less endowed get over the rough spots."

"People like Megan?" Mary asked.

"I only know what kind of soldier, pilot and officer she was---and she was one of the best. You have to decide if she has those same superior traits as a business person."

"Megan told me this morning she'd trust you with her very life---already had done so, many times. Can I trust you with mine?"

"I don't have an alter ego, Mary. I don't sneak up on people; I come at `em head on. You'll never have to wonder where I'm coming from or what my agenda is---I'll tell you straight up. I don't play games. We don't really know each other, but after almost ten years as an Army officer, my style is pretty much chiseled in concrete. It's worked for me so far and I have no intention of letting the evils of corporate America corrupt me."

Mary had learned to be cautious and suspicious of people's motives; that trait had helped her get this far without being blown out of the water by the loathsome stealth attack. For the first time in a very long time, she took this attractive, erudite man across from her at face value.

"Here's to good things in the future, Bob." Mary said, raising her glass. "I genuinely look forward to our working together. Watch your back. As far as I'm concerned, to the best of my ability, I'll give you a heads up, `cover your six' as they say---but there are sharks in the water---don't let `em smell blood."

One down and three to go, Bob thought to himself as he returned to his room. He'd thought that Mary would be the toughest to win over. He'd been wrong and had underestimated her. She'd also let him know in no uncertain terms that his greatest challenges were ahead of him.

His next meeting with an area manager and her staff went very well. He felt reasonably comfortable that he had added another ally. The third one, Beth, was a very different matter. She was a snake and he threatened her. She was already back channeling dissent to her mentor among Virginia's direct reports. She'd heard the glowing reports from her two peers and was preparing to upend him. How to handle a snake?

Bob had never been afraid of snakes; he'd had a pet snake when he had been twelve. Still, sometimes a snake just won't back off. Then you had to kill it with a stick. He hoped it wouldn't come to that.

Bob chatted with Sam on several occasions about his concerns about number three. Sam indicated that if there was going to be a problem, he had been pretty sure that she would be the one. They agreed to keep Virginia out of the loop for the immediate future.

Number four might well be a different kind of problem. He doubted that she had the cahones to fight him but she was too married to the way things had always been done. She was a very competent manager and a good developer of talent but he doubted that she would deal with change well. She might well come under the spell of others intent on torpedoing progress. He wanted to reassure her, relieve some of her obvious anxiety, but knew he couldn't make promises---and wasn't sure he wanted to.

"Gretchen, the core business will always be there, as I see it. It's an integral part of the corporation's heritage---and you understand and run that part of the business as well as anyone. Just know that there will be new things---new business units on the horizon---but there will still be a vital need to keep the traditional, `money maker' afloat and viable." Shit, he thought to himself, I'm starting to sound like some half assed corporate consultant.

In the end he thought Gretchen was probably still on the fence but tilting his---and Virginia's---way. In his travels he identified a number of key junior managers that would be critical assets. He had a second list of those that were, "okay". He had a third list of people that he didn't hold in very high regard. His fourth, and fortunately, shortest list was of those he just couldn't get a handle on. He returned to the home office to gather his notes and thoughts and put them on paper.

Dr. Fuller had agreed to come on board as an outside consultant and was very excited about the opportunity. Before finalizing his presentation for Virginia, he met once again with her four direct reports in the home office.

One, for sure, was with him 100% and genuinely excited at what was on the horizon. The second one was cautious but certainly not an adversary. The third had potentially been on the chopping block before he had arrived. She was the one Virginia had planned to replace with Mary. She was older and very set in her ways. She was eligible for early retirement and that would occur sooner rather than later.

The fourth was a different matter; she could well become his nemesis. Molly was in cahoots with Beth and, he was sure, was intent on taking him down. She had built her own little support group through the organization---small but still deadly. Cut off the head of the snake and the body dies, Bob thought to himself. She was openly hostile and resistant to even the most benign suggestions. If looks could kill, he would have been a dead man.

Sam knew the score but wasn't sure Virginia had the full picture, although Sam had been feeding the chairman hints for some time. Bob was reasonably confident that if he and Sam, `ganged up on' Molly, they would win the battle but unless it reached the desperation point which threatened the company, that just wasn't the way he liked to do things.

As he sat in Molly's office suffering under one more of her withering tirades, he'd had enough. Time was being wasted. He got out of his chair in front of her desk, turned and walked to the door, then turned and spoke, cutting her off in mid sentence.

"Enough! I'd seriously like to have a conversation---a dialogue---with you about the future of this company but this has been a rude, demeaning lecture. When you want to talk---exchange ideas---you know where to find me." He never raised his voice nor slammed her office door.

Molly, on the other hand, did slam his door as she entered his office and was in his face in a couple of minutes, red with rage and spitting venom.

"How dare you, you fucking prick, you son of a bitch, you God damned..."

He interrupted her tirade as she searched for the next expletive. "Molly, I can't decide if you dislike me because I'm male, or you just don't like me---I remind you of someone, maybe? Or maybe you're just too damned comfortable with how things are and can't stand the thought of change. Or maybe you doubt that you can handle it---the change, I mean. Which is it? We need to clear the air and get past whatever it is. I'm not scared of you. You're just very irritating and you'll lose this battle---because you're wrong. Whether I'm still here or not, this company is moving forward, with or without me---or you. Let's start over." He said, extending his hand. "I'm Bob. Can I get you a fresh cup of coffee?"

He hadn't won the battle but he had defused the boiling anger for the moment. He poured her a cup of coffee, recalling how she liked it. She sat down. He pulled a chair around and sat across from her.

Molly started to speak, more measured this time. "I've known people like you, men like you and I don't trust you as far as I can throw you! You're slick and silver tongued but all you really want is to, is to..."

"Fuck you, literally or figuratively?" Bob said.

Her jaw almost dropped off and for a moment she was speechless. He continued.

"Molly I won't ask you to trust me at this point but I would hope you would trust the woman who hired me---the woman you've worked for over the last twenty years. She hired both of us; she hired me to help move this company to the next level, to help it succeed--¬even survive. I know you care deeply about this company. I don't know what experiences you've had in your life with other men, business or otherwise. You don't know me, not even remotely. I am not here to fuck you over from a business perspective. "

He paused, then went on. "In term of the other kind of fucking, if we didn't have to work together and in spite of our age difference, I'd chase your little butt in a New York minute! You are a very attractive woman, which has absolutely nothing to do with business so don't worry, your panties are safe, at least as far as I'm concerned. Now for Christ's sake, let's cut the shit and get down to work...or do we need to tussle some more?"

He had finally gotten to her. She burst out laughing, almost sliding out of her chair and nearly spilling her coffee.

"Shit! You don't pull your punches, do you?"

"Not very often."

Look, Bob, I understand in a previous life, in the military you were in combat. Did you ever have to..."

"Kill anybody? No. Watch some really great, brave kids die? Yes. Too damned many and I felt personally responsible for every one of them. I can give you their names and home towns and their parent's names and addresses if you like; I don't even have to look `em up. Sure, I saved a bunch, but losing even one was one too many. And losing the ones I was responsible for, those under my command, those it was my job to bring home in one piece..."

Bob trailed off. He had not shown anger but he had let his emotions slip out. It was at that moment that Molly knew he was not remotely like any of the other men she had known, professionally or personally and she just wanted to hug him. She did.

"Thanks." Bob said. "I needed that. Where the hell were you when I was the one giving the hugs but no one thought that, `the Captain' needed one?"

"Friends?" Molly said, softly, kissing him on the forehead.

"Friends." Bob replied, and from that day on Bob and Molly's friendship never wavered.

Molly returned to her office. Shit! I let my prejudices cloud my judgment. He's the real deal. And if the circumstances were different I'd jump his bones in a second! Now I need to get on the phone and try to undo the damage I've done, if it's not too late.

Bob and Molly joined each other for lunch and had an extremely productive collaboration.

"So, Bob, do you like older women?" Molly said playfully.

"Not as a rule, but in your case I'd make an exception." Bob said, resisting the desire to pat her fine little fanny.

Somewhere in this company there is a woman who will lasso this guy, a very lucky young woman, Molly thought to herself. I wonder who it will be?

Molly succeeded in stemming the molten lava flow she had unleashed in several corners of the corporation. She'd brought Beth back on track, she hoped, and that was a start.

Bob, Sam and Dr. Fuller put the finishing touches on the initial presentation, the one for the chairman. Three days later, they met in her office to make the pitch.

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